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Best Meat Thermometers

By: Lisa Maloney on November 17, 2016

The ThermoWorks Thermapen and ChefAlarm are still among our top picks this year, because they excel in speed, accuracy, ease of use, durability and excellent customer service. But the most exciting findings from our research may be the emerging wireless technologies that enable you to keep an eye on your meal when you're not even in the room.

The ThermoWorks Thermapen Mk4 is the undisputed king of instant-read meat thermometers, thanks to a thermocouple sensor that returns highly accurate readings in two to four seconds -- almost twice as fast as the nearest competition. Together, the 4.5-inch probe and folding handle keep your hand about 10 inches away from anything hot. A solid, durable build and great usability features like a rotating display, automatic backlight and auto sleep/wake function make this thermometer well worth its asking price.

The Lavatools Javelin is a great bargain for the price. Best for occasional users, it returns accurate results in about four to six seconds and measures temperatures up to 482 degrees Fahrenheit. A built-in magnet and hanging hook make it easy to keep track of, and the Javelin folds in half for easy storage. The Lavatools Javelin also turns itself on and off automatically as you fold or unfold it, and has a large, easy-to-read display.

The ThermoWorks ChefAlarm's usability features are comprehensive without being too fiddly. It also has tough probe cables that can stand up to a lot of abuse and even splashing liquids, whether from hot grease or a cold rain. The thermometer remembers most settings even when it's turned off, and the alarm has four volume settings. Replacement probes are inexpensive with several options to choose from, some of which return results quickly enough to double as an instant-read thermometer.

The dual-probe Weber iGrill Kitchen Thermometer -- formerly known as the iDevices Kitchen Thermometer -- has a well-lit, easy-to-read display and does consistently well in tests of accuracy and repeatability. But its most attention-getting feature, by far, is the ability to pair with your iOS or Android smartphone via Bluetooth and send push notifications and audible alarms when your meat reaches the set target temperature. The app displays temperature graphs and lets you select or create preprogrammed temperature settings.

Meat thermometers are more than "just" the key to a perfect roast

Meat thermometers might seem like an unnecessary accessory -- after all, can't you tell when a piece of meat is done by cutting into it, or poking it with a finger? For home cooks, the answer is no. As clever as some of the guesswork methods of estimating when meat is done may be, they're just that -- guesswork.

In fact, many of us are reaping the consequences of all that guesswork without realizing it. Often, what we call the "stomach flu" is not related to the influenza virus at all, but instead a reaction to improperly cooked food. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that every year about 1 in 6 Americans gets sick from foodborne diseases. That's 48 million people -- and of that group, some 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die.

Even the old methods that once worked -- for example, waiting until a cooked chicken's juices run clear to call it done -- don't necessarily work today, because the way we've raised our meat animals has changed. Things get especially tricky when you're dealing with a big roast, ham or turkey, because different parts of the meat may heat at different rates, and you need to be sure the entire cut is done all the way through.

Having a meat thermometer in hand is the only way to be sure the meat you're cooking is safe. As a bonus, it'll also make it easy for you to produce perfectly cooked cuts of meat every time, even if your grill or oven has hot spots that make separate cuts of meat heat unevenly.

Types of Meat Thermometers

Digital Instant Read Thermometers

An instant-read thermometer is poked into the meat to check its doneness, then removed. "Instant-read" thermometers can have two types of sensors: thermistors, which are less expensive but can take 5 to 7 seconds -- or more -- to provide an accurate temperature, or thermocouples, which are more expensive but give accurate readings within 2 to 4 seconds.

Leave-In Thermometers

Leave-in thermometers (also called probe thermometers) have one or more probes that are inserted into the meat and left there as you cook, or clipped to the oven or grill rack to monitor ambient temperature. The probes are connected to a base station which displays the temperature and sounds an alarm when your meat reaches the desired temperature. Some leave-in thermometers can also be programmed to chart the meat's temperature over time or sound an alarm if it exceeds a set minimum or maximum temperature.

Wireless Thermometers

Most probes remain connected to the thermometer display base by cables, but wireless probe thermometers -- most of which use Bluetooth technology to communicate with the display base -- are becoming more common. One of the leave-in thermometer probes we evaluated can even communicate with your smartphone.

Where to put the thermometer

You should measure the temperature of a large cut of meat in several places, because variations in the grill or oven temperature and the meat itself can cause it to cook at uneven rates.

If you're using a thermocouple thermometer that gives quick readings, insert the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat, pushing just past the center, then pull the thermometer out slowly and take the lowest (coldest) reading. Don't position the thermometer against the bone, because bone heats at a different rate than the meat of the muscle. If you're cooking a steak, a burger or other slim cuts of meat, try inserting the meat thermometer from the side.

If you're using a thermistor thermometer that can take up to 30 seconds to give an accurate reading, aim as close to the center of the cut of meat as possible and leave the thermometer in place until you get a stable reading. Then pull it slowly out to check for cold spots.

Calibrating a meat thermometer

Although all meat thermometers are calibrated when they come out of the box, some thermometers can be calibrated at home to fine-tune their accuracy. Experts recommend doing this once a year, or any time the thermometer has been dropped or possibly damaged.

Check your thermometer's accuracy by inserting the probe into a glass of ice water, just below the level of the ice; it should read within a few degrees of 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Test another extreme with boiling water: The thermometer should read 212 degrees, or a little less if you live above sea level. For most purposes, being within 2 or 3 degrees of those goals is good enough. If your thermometer needs to be calibrated, consult the owner's manual for specific directions.

Finding The Best Meat Thermometers
1. ConsumerReports.org
Editors of Consumer Reports, Not Dated
2. Cook's Illustrated
Editors of Cook's Illustrated, As of November 2016
3. AmazingRibs.com
Meathead Goldwyn, As of November 2016

In order to find the best meat thermometers, we consulted reviews from expert foodie and tech sites such as Cook's Illustrated, ConsumerReports.org, Good Housekeeping, AmazingRibs.com and TheSweethome.com. We also evaluated hundreds of user reviews from retail websites, although one notable brand, ThermoWorks, is usually available only from the manufacturer.

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